Rituals for Living
Enter The Bushmaster
Marvels Luke Cage season 2 is currently on Netflix and I’ve just finished watching. As a series it was far more engaging than season one. The character development, brilliant soundtrack and good writing all make up the questionable Jamaican accents LOL! However this article isn’t about reviewing the series itself or to comment on how authentic it is to the comic book, but to reflect my thoughts on the way the show handled the topic of African Spiritual traditions and practices.
This season see’s the introduction of the Jamaican born character John ‘Bushmaster’ McIver (Mustafa Shakir) who has a grudge to settle with Mariah Stokes (Alfre Woodard). Throughout the series his backstory is slowly revealed giving the complex villain some depth. Even referencing that he is proud of his Maroon heritage and the ancestral traditions that they possessed.
The references to African Spirituality start quite early in the series beginning when we see Bushmaster purchasing items from Tilda Johnson’s (Gabrielle Dennis) holistic shop in Harlem. Upon seeing the list of items required she apprehensively responds “This stuff is used for Obeah”. For those who are not aware Obeah is the term used to describe the spiritual practices carried over by enslaved Africans to Jamaica. Her response was one of fear and cautiousness. This scene highlighted that she was aware of the practice but also has her own reservations. It also set the narrative that what Bushmaster was engaging in was something to be feared.
This undercurrent message was also reinforced shortly afterwards as we see Bushmaster preparing and inhaling the items he purchased.
It wasn’t lost on me that this scene is juxtaposed with Luke Cage’s father (Reg E. Cathey), (a preacher) delivering a sermon in is his church. It appears the producers couldn’t resist the same old ‘Christianity = good, Esoteric spirituality = bad’ subliminals, or maybe it’s me being too over sensitive. Let’s be real if I am being sensitive it is for good reason as Hollywood is well known for its negative portrayal of our indigenous spiritual traditions.
Episode 3 takes it to the next level as we see Bushmaster in full ritual mode in a candlelit circle taking ‘Nightshade’ the natural plant that gives him his superhuman strength. Whilst in the circle he starts carrying out capoeira moves, highlighting his new might, agility and combat skills. As he finalises the ritual his face changes, possibly indicating that he has invoked different ancestral energies that exist within him.
Despite the Hollywoodesque ‘Voodoo’ depiction, the scene is quite compelling as it captures the essence of ritual and how a physical symbolic action can impact the realm of spirit, thus impacting ourselves. In this scene what we are ultimately witnessing is someone utilising their ancient knowledge of natural elements fused from the earth to develop themselves and enhance their abilities. Interestingly, the music choice for this scene is ‘Chase the Devil’ by Max Romeo, The Upsetters.
My instinct was (and still is) that this was another blatant attempt to subliminally associate such practices with negativity and the ‘devil’ etc. This coupled with the previous scenes reinforces my stance that this is not coincidental. However, some people see this as a reference to him seeking revenge on Mariah, if you actually watch the series you will realise that she has no redeeming qualities whatsoever so I guess the jury is still out on this. What are your thoughts?
This season of Luke Cage was quite captivating as just when I thought the direction of the show was going one way it turned and went another. What started as a depiction of a cold hearted, brutal villain who used ‘voodoo’ started to grow into something much more. Kudos to the writers as Bushmaster’s character is quite complex! As the series progresses his character develops greatly and despite his ruthlessness in terms of seeking revenge he is somewhat of a likable villain, a ‘rebel with a cause’ so to speak. His backstory goes back to his childhood, which gives the viewer a sense of compassion towards him as his motivations for revenge become clear.
What is most interesting about the character Bushmaster is that he is not defined or limited by his practice of Obeah. In fact, he is an intriguing, charismatic person who happens to practice Obeah. I found this to be the most captivating aspect of the show as it is extremely rare to have this type of depiction when exploring African Spiritual traditions. It would have been all too easy and predictable to have him as the ‘evil voodoo’ one dimensional villain but the depth of the character made a refreshing welcome change.
A stand out moment for me was during one of the flashback scenes when Bushmaster was a young boy. In the scene he had been shot in the stomach and was healed by an ‘Obeah Woman’ as she used her knowledge of herbs and incantations. What stood out for me is that it showed how these practices have been traditionally used for centuries.
It highlighted that what has been systematically shown as negative is actually ancient African Spiritual wisdom that has been carried over through generations. These wisdoms express deep understandings of nature and all its elements and its relationship with humanity and through this knowledge they have the ability to heal and alter our physical reality.
Whilst I think the mainstream media has a long way to go in terms of reversing the negative stigma in regards to indigenous African Spiritual traditions I do feel the tide is changing.
Have you seen the series yet? If so I would love to hear your thoughts.
By Verona Spence-Adofo